How Biden’s historically diverse administration plans to improve workforce diversity and economic equity

Biden cabinet
Joe Biden holds the first Cabinet meeting of his presidency on April 1, 2021.

  • President Biden vowed to appoint the most diverse Cabinet in history and fix economic inequities.
  • Financial support for women, communities of color, and low-income American are among the pledges.
  • The president faces an uphill battle to get the plans through Congress amid Republican resistance.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden promised his Cabinet would be the most diverse in history. Recently released data revealed his progress.

After saying he wanted his administration to “look like America” in December last year, the 78-year-old president has mostly succeeded in his plan to diversify the executive branch, according to an analysis by Insider in February.

As the country tries to emerge from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, Biden has installed a diverse team to forward his economic and business agenda, which includes tackling entrenched inequities.

Among them, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as the first woman to lead the department in its 231-year history, Cecilia Rouse as the first African American to chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay cabinet member in his role as transportation secretary.

Last week marked the first 100 days of the Biden administration. We take a look at some of the actions taken since his January inauguration to promote diversity in business, the workplace and support communities disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan aims to rebuild the country’s aging road and bridge network.

A $2 trillion infrastructure plan that targets funding towards underserved neighborhoods

Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill sets out to repair the country’s dilapidated road and bridge network, expand access to high-speed broadband and accelerate the clean energy transition.

The American Jobs Plan targets infrastructure projects towards historically underserved communities. The plan includes proposals to replace lead pipes that disproportionately harm Black children and a $20 billion investment to “reconnect” previously cut-off areas to affordable public transportation systems.

The plan would also build more climate-resilient public infrastructure, with a focus on low-income people and communities of color, who are most vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather events such as flooding.

However, Republicans have opposed the bill, citing its “far-left” priorities and the corporate tax hike Biden has said will finance the plan.

Jennifer Granholm
Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks at Howard University.

Proposed funding to build a diverse clean-energy workforce, with investments targeted towards historically Black colleges

Biden’s administration is pushing for more solar panels to be installed in communities disproportionately affected by pollution, as part of his American Jobs Plan.

The Department of Energy announced on Tuesday that $15.5 million would go into installing solar panels in underserved communities and training a diverse clean-energy workforce.

The DOE also committed $17.3 million to fund internship and research programs, with a focus on training more students of color in STEM fields. More than $5 million will be directed to 11 colleges, including historically Black universities Howard and Florida A&M.

Historically Black colleges have long been denied equal access to federal funding opportunities, DOE secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a roundtable discussion at Howard University on Monday.

“This administration is really committed to making the transition to clean energy an inclusive transition, offering benefits to every community,” Granholm said.

Working mom
Biden’s American Families Plan aims to support working mothers.

A plan to introduce 12 weeks of paid family leave – and Biden hopes it will encourage women to stay in the workforce

Biden has introduced a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan – made up of a mix of investments and tax cuts – that would create a national paid family and medical leave program.

The plan is estimated to cost $225 billion over 10 years.

The Biden administration hopes that introducing 12-weeks of paid family leave will help mothers to keep working, reduce racial disparities in lost wages, and improve children’s health.

Biden’s plan also commits to providing support for low- and middle-income families to access childcare, ensuring this does not account for more than 7% of their income, and investing in the childcare workforce.

Childcare workers are among the most underpaid in the US and more than nine in ten jobs are held by women, and more than four in ten by women of color.

D&I training
Biden reversed a decision by former President Trump to ban federal workplace diversity training.

An overturn of Trump’s ban on federal workplace diversity and inclusion training

One of Biden’s first actions as president was to revoke the workplace diversity training ban, signed by former President Trump, across federal agencies and their contractors.

Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office, which overturned Trump’s ban on diversity and inclusion training that taught critical race theory and involved discussions on institutional racism.

The new order instead advances a “whole-of-government” approach to addressing racial inequities, and asks federal agencies to consider whether their policies and programs create barriers for underserved communities to access their benefits and services.

Takeout delivery
Biden has extended unemployment insurance for gig workers.

Targeted Covid-19 relief, including protections for those in insecure work

The landmark $1.9 trillion stimulus package includes funding commitments to help communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

In the law, signed in March, $5 billion is provided to farmers of color to invest in their business, buy equipment and repay loans.

“This is a big deal for us,” John Boyd, Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, told CBS. “We see this as a great opportunity to help thousands.”

In the package, unemployment insurance for self-employed and gig workers, such as ride-share and takeout delivery drivers, has been extended until September.

In announcing the plan, Biden called on businesses to provide back hazard pay to frontline workers – who are disproportionately Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander – in retail and grocery sectors. It was employers’ “duty,” the proposal stated, to compensate workers who had risked their lives to keep businesses running.

Biden still faces a challenging road ahead

The president’s administration has taken bold and swift action in its first 100 days, even winning praise from more left-leaning members of his own party. But the impact of Biden’s policies will only be felt in the coming months and years.

Biden still faces an uphill battle to get his Jobs Plan and Families Plan through Congress in the face of Republican opposition and with a razor-thin majority.

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Mitch McConnell’s alma mater rejects his views on the 1619 project and says they are ‘quite troubling’

Mitch McConnell
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks to reporters after the Senate voted to acquit U.S. President Trump of both charges in his Senate impeachment trial in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2020.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell has rebuked the 1619 project and disagrees with it being taught in schools.
  • McConnell’s alma mater sharply criticized his comments on the 1619 project.
  • The NYT’s 1619 project aims to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s alma mater, the University of Louisville, sharply criticized comments the senator made at the school this week about the history of slavery in the United States.

During the event on Monday, McConnell was asked about his views on the New York Times’ 1619 project, a long-form magazine piece published in 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in the United States. The project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” according to the Times.

The question came after the Republican leader sent a letter last week to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, writing that the 1619 project strives to “reorient” US history “away from their intended purposes toward a politicized and divisive agenda” and urging for its removal from school curricula.

McConnell reiterated his stance on Monday, saying: “There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year 1619 was one of those years.”

Senior officials at the university on Thursday rejected McConnell’s statements, according to reporting from WDRB, a Fox-affiliated news station in Louisville.

“As I am sure most of you are aware, the recent statements made by Sen. Mitch McConnell during a press conference in Louisville this week are quite troubling for American descendents of slaves, our allies and those who support us,” V. Faye Jones, the school’s interim senior associate vice president for diversity and equity, wrote in a university-wide email, per WDRB.

“To imply that slavery is not an important part of United States history not only fails to provide a true representation of the facts, but also denies the heritage, culture, resilience and survival of Black people in America,” Jones continued.

Jones added that she, the university’s president, and provost each “reject the idea that the year 1619 is not a critical moment in the history of this country.”

McConnell had listed what he believed to be important dates of American history, including “dates like 1776, the Declaration of Independence, 1787, the Constitution, 1861 to 1865, the Civil War, are sort of the basic tenets of American history,” he said on Monday.

“That issue that we all are concerned about – racial discrimination – it was our original sin. We’ve been working for 200 and some odd years to get past it. We’re still working on it,” McConnell said. “And I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”

McConnell’s office did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

The author of the 1619 project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, pushed back on McConnell’s comments as well.

“No one can argue that 1619 was not a foundational date in American history,” Hannah-Jones said on MSNBC this week. “He’s just saying the truth is too difficult for, apparently, our nation to bear, and that we’re far too fragile to be able to withstand the scrutiny of the truth.”

The criticism comes as the Biden administration has emphasized tackling racial inequality and discrimination in the country.

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He was the first African American member of Miami’s most exclusive social club. Today, he owns it – and has a plan to recoup his $8 million investment.

R. Donahue Peebles
R. Donahue Peebles

  • Miami’s exclusive club The Bath Club has reopened with new owners.
  • After years of excluding Black people, its current owner Don Peebles is African American.
  • The new owner talks to Insider about his plans to build an “exclusively inclusive” club to cater to a new generation of private club-goers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When R. Donahue Peebles first set foot on the sand of the Beach Club in Miami in 1996, toured its three acres of private beach, two clay tennis courts, and 26,000-square-foot clubhouse, he had no idea he would be the private social club’s first African American member.

“It was a beautiful Mediterranean building,” said Peebles, who is the founder of the multi-billion dollar real estate development company Peebles Corporation. He’d come to Miami to build the Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach – a project that would make him the first African American to develop a major hotel in the US.

And that wouldn’t be his last first: In 2000, Peebles bought this very social club, remaking its image after decades of excluding people of color. He and his wife Katrina, who is creative director at Peebles Corporation, invested $8 million renovating the club, which reopened this February with a membership list curated by the couple.

The new Bath Club, they said, will be a place where everyone is welcome – and Peebles has a plan to recoup his investment by catering to a new generation of private club-goers who value his family’s “exclusively inclusive” approach.

This wasn’t the barrier I was looking to break’

Founded in 1926, the Bath Club was the first private social club established in the Southeast United States. It was a place of leisure for the Vanderbilt, Cartier, and Boeing families, though minorities, especially Black and Jewish people, were barred from entering.

R. Donahue Peebles
R. Donahue Peebles

Though Peebles joined seventy years later and thirty years after the end of the Jim Crow era, he said there were moments when he felt used – a mere vehicle to help the storied club change its image. “This wasn’t the barrier I was looking to break,” Don said.

Miami Beach has a long history of racism and discrimination. In fact, it used to be a sundown town, a nearly all-white community that banned Black people past sunset. Aside from the Bath Club, other prominent social clubs, such as Indian Creek and the Everglades Club, have all faced decades-long criticism for their policies which appear to discriminate against Black and Jewish communities. Some of these clubs have found a loophole in a Florida law that only explicitly bans clubs with over 400 members from discriminating against minorities.

Freddy Stebbins, a history and sociology professor at Miami Dade College, told Insider the old Bath Club used to send postcards that said “gentiles only” on the back – a way to signal they didn’t want Jewish people to enter the club. (In 1947 Miami Beach passed a law banning businesses from displaying signs that used the distinction.)

“It was a boy’s club,” Stebbins said, adding that members were typically those from the North who had money, wealth, and prestige. “You most often had to be Protestant. You could definitely not be a person of color and you could definitely not be Jewish.”

The Bath Club
Exterior of The Bath Club

Things began to change, however, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the end of Jim Crow. The area experienced an influx of immigrants and new money. Then, in 1996, came Peebles.

More diverse than ever before, but still just as exclusive

Katrina Peebles & Don Peebles
Katrina Peebles & Don Peebles

As the demographics of South Florida began to change, old-school exclusive clubs fell on hard times. Over 70% of the region’s population is Latino, compared to an overall 27% for the state of Florida. As of 2018, over 50% of the population was born outside of the United States (the national average is just 13%). Miami has the highest population of Cubans outside of Cuba; it has a vibrant Haitian community in what’s known as “Little Haiti,” and a Colombian population nearing 300,000.

In the modern era, the Bath Club struggled to attract new members. After it experienced financial difficulties, Peebles won a bid to buy it in 2000 for $10 million. At first, he allowed the club’s original owners to retain rights; he built a luxury tower and six beachside villas on the property.

But around 2013, he began buying out club members. Two years later, his company took full control of the club and used it as an event space. It was Katrina who suggested turning it back into a social club.

The aim for the new Bath Club, said Katrina, is to be “exclusively inclusive.” As a biracial couple, both have experienced feeling like the “only” people in the room and felt buying the historic Bath Club sends a message. “It could show how far Miami and even America has come,” she said.

The club may be more diverse than ever before, but it’s still just as exclusive. The initiation fee is $20,000 with annual dues costing $18,000 – a steal compared to other clubs where initiation fees can start at $200,000. Membership is capped at 200 and is via referral by a member, or the Peebles themselves.

So far, about 150 of the memberships have been sold, though they declined to share to whom beyond saying the group included some “high profile” people. The Peebles are fixtures on the nation’s social scene, having hosted campaign fundraisers for both the Clintons and the Obamas.

Peebles says he’s already made a third of his $8 million investment back. The rest he’s expecting to recoup in less than two years.

Enter, the new Roaring 20s

The club’s exclusivity is a selling point to many new members, as it gives the opportunity to socially distance while lounging in a cabana on a private beach.

The private dining spaces, ballroom, spa, and restaurant attracted new members like Lauren Geduld, who told the Miami Herald she joined the club alongside her husband and two daughters, looking for a place to entertain themselves safely and privately. “The beach is what attracted us. It’s located in such a special part of Miami Beach. The service is great. The food is great. It has such a magical environment.”

The interiors, done by female-founded firm Antrobus + Ramirez, contain floral patterns, with a mix of retro-furnishings. The Prohibition-era secret doors were restored, and the new menus are curated by the Apicii Hospitality, which also worked on the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Orlando.

The US market for golf courses and country clubs hit over $20 billion last year and is expected to increase at least 2% over the next five years. Calling the social club industry “interesting,” Peebles isn’t in a rush to buy another one. In fact, he said, when he bought the club he didn’t even necessarily have plans to reopen it; he just wanted to preserve it. But then of course, on the cusp of a bustling new jazz age, it would be quite irresistible not to share that white-sand view of the twinkling night sky above the Atlantic.

“It was a long winding road to get us here,” Don said. “But buildings tell stories, and this one tells the American story of how we were segregated, how our wealth was concentrated racially, then someone like me bought it, and, along with my wife, this is what we did with it.”

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The UK’s failure to find evidence of systemic racism in a government-issued report is a laughable example of hypocrisy

boris johnson uk
  • A government-issued report in the UK found no evidence of systemic racism in the country.
  • A government clearing itself of any wrong-doing is a mockery to the real, institutional problems at hand.
  • Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Controversy has arisen in the UK after a much anticipated report investigating race and ethnic disparities apparently found no evidence of institutional racism in the country; instead heralding Britain as a model for other white majority nations.

The United Kingdom, much like the rest of the world, is having a moment of reckoning about racial injustice, further complicated by its colonialist past. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that followed the killing of George Floyd in America, the UK government established the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to help address concerns about the racial inequalities that permeate British society even today. But the report’s failure to find evidence of systemic injustice should leave us all questioning its authors’ intention.


Due to the importance of such reports – which gain considerable media coverage and are often relied on by government officials, academics, and policy makers to inform their decision making – it is imperative that the members of the commission are impartial experts that have tremendous credibility. However, eyebrows were raised when this particular panel, which is meant to be independent, seemed to mostly consist of individuals whose ideology was in line with the Conservative government’s views and lacked expertise in many of the matters being investigated. Former Shadow Home Secretary and current Labour MP Diane Abbott – the first Black woman to be elected to Parliament – went as far as accusing the government of consciously packing it with people who did not believe in institutional racism. And others who took part in the report are now trying to distance themselves from its results.

Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, that this report went against the findings of several other major inquiries in the past 20 years that had found evidence of systemic racism – including the landmark 2017 Lammy Review that found significant racial bias in the UK justice system. It has become apparent now that instead of taking the opportunity to truly explore the issues of racial inequality and discrimination, the report appeared to be tailored to fit a pre-determined narrative that suited the government and reaffirmed its skepticism of institutional racism.

There is plenty of evidence regarding systemic racism – in 2021, one would have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. But in keeping the discussion stuck at debating the existence of a deeply entrenched discriminatory phenomenon that clearly affects a significant percentage of the population negatively, the government has ensured that no progress whatsoever is made in addressing the resulting racial disparities – which was what we were led to believe the commission was set up to do in the first place.

Evidence of injustice is easy to come by

The reality is that we live in a country where COVID-19 has disproportionately taken the lives and livelihoods of its Black, Asian, and ethnic minority population. Black women in Britain are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Black people are not only nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, but are also twice as likely to be criminalised for drug possession than their white counterparts. Ethnic minority students, especially those from Caribbean or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds, are significantly more likely to be excluded from school. Studies have shown that ethnic minority students are also less likely to be accepted in the country’s elite universities, even when they have the same grades as their white peers. Only recently, Black citizens were detained, denied their rights, and even wrongly deported from the country by the British government.

While the report does acknowledge that racial disparities still exist, its authors argue that “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, and culture and religion” play a significant role. Ethnic minorities opposed to the findings of the report seemingly get painted as perpetual moaners who’ve absorbed “a fatalistic narrative that says the deck is permanently stacked against them” and can’t bring themselves to appreciate the incredible progress Britain has made transforming itself into “a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”.

Thus, the discussion has devolved into a farcical debate on patriotism, where those criticising this ‘positive’ news about Britain face accusations of just having an irrational hatred for the country instead of legitimate grievances. It feeds directly to the biases of much of the Conservative vote base, many who are vocal about how they believe people of colour, anti-racism campaigners and experts want to make everything about race, and how those complaining of racism have a victimhood complex.

The backlash and condemnation of the report has been swift and comprehensive. Several academics have criticised it as a sloppy piece of work and accused it of distorting and misrepresenting research. Many of the experts thanked for their help with the report have publicly come out and denied their involvement with its contents. And as I mentioned before, some of the commissioners have now come out and distanced themselves from the final report; with allegations that it was the government – and not the 12 commissioners – that produced many of the controversial sections of the finished product. The government has been urged to withdraw the report, with many rights campaigners fearing that its continued circulation will “take us back to the ‘colour bar’ of the 1960s.”

But whether a Prime Minister who has conducted an obvious attempt at whitewashing racism listens to such concerns remains to be seen. The hypocrisy of a government investigating itself by appointing ‘yes people’ to exonerate it and further its agenda – even allegedly rewriting their report to ensure the desired outcome – is galling.

The repercussions of this cynical act will continue to be felt, with the credibility of such ‘independent’ government commissions severely damaged. What is crystal clear, however, is that we cannot look to this administration for any meaningful action to address racial disparities. Our struggle for racial equality continues, it is just a shame that the government continues to actively make things worse for the marginalised communities it is also meant to serve.

Mohammad Zaheer is a journalist and political commentator.

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Richard Branson is leading a campaign to end the death penalty, along with other key business figures. The Virgin Group founder said there is an urgent need to abolish the practice.

Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson, is spearheading the campaign.

  • Sir Richard Branson spoke to Insider about his ongoing campaign to eradicate capital punishment.
  • The Virgin Group founder called the practice “barbaric” and “inhumane.”
  • He has teamed up with several other business leaders to help spread the message.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has joined forces with other business leaders to launch a campaign to abolish capital punishment in the US and other countries.

The 70-year-old billionaire announced the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty Declaration in a virtual SXSW event in Austin, Texas, last month.

The declaration was coordinated by the UK-based organization, Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, and has gained 21 signatories. They include Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry Ice cream, Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, Helene Gayle, a director at the Coca-Cola Company, and telecom tycoon, Dr. Mo Ibrahim.

The push to end the death penalty comes amid a global focus on racial and economic justice, exemplified by the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

In an interview with Insider, Branson described the death penalty as “barbaric” and “inhumane.” He explained his involvement in several cases throughout the years where innocent people were sent to death row, in the US and elsewhere. This led him to realize capital punishment is arbitrary and flawed, he said.

Branson gave an example of a case he took up, which involved Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 28 years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated in 2015. “He was framed for a double murder he didn’t commit, only because the police and prosecutors needed a Black man to convict,” Branson said.

For every eight people executed in the US, one person is freed from death row – often after decades, as was the case with Hinton, Branson added.

This case, among others, highlighted another problem for Branson – that the death penalty is also a symbol of oppression, as well as racial and social inequality.

“Look at people on death row. In most US cases, it’s people of colour and the poor that are sent to death row,” he said. “Some in the US have called it a ‘direct descendant of lynching’, and I’d say there is much evidence of that. In some countries, it’s become a tool of political control and oppression,” Branson said.

Branson believes it is even more crucial to end capital punishment, given it is a wasteful and ineffective misallocation of public funds. Now more than ever, governments must be responsible with public finances given the hard hit on countries’ economies due to the pandemic, he said. “Public funding could be spent on schools, healthcare, infrastructure instead,” he added.

The involvement of so many notable business leaders in the campaign demonstrates an increasing willingness to speak up on issues of inequality, the danger of executing innocent people, and the need for fiscal responsibility.

“We have to ask ourselves: does the death penalty serve a real purpose for us as caring human beings?” Gayle said in a statement. She noted how it felt even more urgent to focus attention on preventable deaths in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its terrible loss of life.

Cohen and Greenfield wanted to ensure they played their part, too. They told Insider: “We have some of the world’s loudest voices – and we have a responsibility to use them to fight injustice wherever we see it.”

Businesses need to do more than just say Black Lives Matter, they added: “We need to walk our talk and help tear down symbols of structural racism.”

Jason Flom, chief executive of multimedia company Lava Media, is also involved with the campaign. When asked about the main objectives he hoped to achieve, he told Insider: “Goals include changing hearts and minds in the general public, as well as educating the next generation of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and prospective jurors.”

There are 56 countries that still retain death-penalty laws as of 2019, according to Amnesty International. Since 2013, 33 countries have carried out at least one execution, the BBC reported. More than 170 UN member states, out of 194, have abolished capital punishment in law or declared a moratorium.

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White Republicans are more likely to reject the COVID-19 vaccine than any other group in America

FLORIDA, USA - NOVEMBER 2: US President Donald Trump holds a rally to address his supporters at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport in Miami, Florida, United States on November 2, 2020. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency / Contributor

  • More than half of white Republicans said they were unsure or would not take a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • They were less inclined to get a COVID-19 vaccine compared to Black and Latinx Americans.
  • Still, Black and Latinx Americans are getting fewer vaccines and dying at higher rates.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Three months into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the US, rates of vaccine acceptance have steadily climbed for Black and Latinx Americans but stayed low among white Republicans, according to recent polling by Civiqs.

Early polls about vaccine attitudes in the US revealed Black Americans were more likely to be vaccine hesitant compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Noting this gap, public health officials initiated national and local vaccine outreach efforts targeting minority groups.

But vaccine acceptance campaigns so far have failed to address who may be the most vaccine hesitant group at this point in the rollout: white Republicans.

Republicans, especially white ones, are less likely to want to get vaccinated

According to Civiqs, 56% of white Republicans said they were either unsure or would not take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available to them, compared to 31% of Black Americans, 30% of Latinx Americans, and just 7% of white Democrats.

“Vaccines are our only way out of this. If we don’t have 80-plus percent of the population vaccinated before next winter, this virus is going to come back raging,” Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, told NBC News. “What worries me is if 25 percent of Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated, that’s going to be hard to do.”

In fact, some polls have found rates of vaccine refusal among Republicans could exceed 25%. When considering vaccine acceptance based on party lines alone, 41% of Republicans said they don’t plan to get a vaccine if it’s available to them.

There’s a partisan gap in vaccine acceptance

Partisan politics seem to be a far greater driver of vaccine hesitancy than Black Americans’ mistrust of the healthcare system.

Pollsters at Indiana University found that blue states have lower rates of vaccine refusal than red states, and battleground states are generally somewhere in the middle.

More data from a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll published last week showed that 47% of people who supported Trump in 2020 said they wouldn’t choose to be vaccinated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he found it “disturbing” that Trump supporters were avoiding the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is not a political issue. This is a public health issue,” Fauci said in another news appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Axios’ Orion Rummler reported.

Black and Latinx Americans still have gotten fewer vaccines

Despite a shift towards vaccine acceptance in polling, Black and Latinx Americans still have received fewer vaccines than their white counterparts, according to available racial data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has compiled race and ethnicity data for just over half of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among that group, nearly two thirds (66%) were white, 9% were Hispanic, and 7.5% were Black, as of March 14.

Although white Americans constitute a greater proportion of healthcare workers and adults over 65 – groups that have gotten priority in the vaccine rollout – the country’s Black and Latinx populations have been more than two to three times more vulnerable to severe disease and death from the coronavirus overall.

Experts have previously told Insider that increasing outreach and education, improving access to vaccines, and partnering with trusted members of the Black and Latinx communities could increase vaccine uptake.

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Gina Yashere on her Chuck Lorre collaboration, diversifying their writers’ room, and bringing Nigerian culture to American primetime

GY Navy white standup
Comedian Gina Yashere at the opening night of the African Film Festival in New York in 2018.

  • Gina Yashere has championed Black and African actors and writers in Hollywood.
  • Chuck Lorre asked her to consult on his CBS show “Bob Hearts Abishola.” Days later, she became a co-creator.
  • “There’s a lot more me’s out there waiting for a good opportunity,” she told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When comedian Gina Yashere was first brought in as a consultant on the CBS show Bob Hearts Abishola she was skeptical, even after her first meeting with series creator Chuck Lorre.

The show is about a middle-aged white man who falls in love with his Nigerian immigrant nurse, Abishola, while recovering from a heart attack. Lorre, who created the mega-hit shows Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, needed someone to help bring authenticity to his show idea and Abishola’s character.

Lorre googled “female Nigerian comedian” and discovered Yashere on YouTube. She’s well known in the United Kingdom as a comedian whose bits cover her experience as a Nigerian lesbian woman who left her native U.K. for the United States. Lorre watched her set as host of Live at The Apollo in London, and wanted to meet her.

“So, originally, I was brought on as a consultant on all things African. It sounded weird to me,” Yashere told Insider, recalling her meeting with Lorre. “Once I got in the room with the guys, I began to really like them. I could see that they were trying to make a really good show, and it wasn’t really an exploitative thing.”

The pairing worked, and she was promoted to co-creator of the show after two days.

“She flew over from England to spend a couple days with us to just talk us through what she thought we could be doing,” Lorre said during a panel discussion promoting the show “And after a couple days, we just went, let’s see if she’ll stay with us… Don’t leave!”

She eventually became an executive producer, writer, and actress — playing Yemi, Abishola’s best friend. “I got in the room with them and just started helping them create an overall sort of template for the sitcom, giving them character names,” she said.

GY Yashere and Lorre
Gina Yashere and Chuck Lorre in 2019 discussing their show Bob Hearts Abishola.

Bringing her in could easily be the best decision Lorre and his other co-creators, Eddie Gorodetsky and Alan Higgins, made when creating the show. In its first season, Bob Hearts Abishola, was CBS’s highest-rated new sitcom with over 5 million viewers consistently every week, though reviews have been mixed. Now in its second season, the ratings are still consistent, and the show was renewed for a third season in February.

But Yashere, who has been living in the U.S. for over 13 years, isn’t an overnight success. Her IMDB page is proof of that with acting, producing, and writing credits starting back in the early 2000s. Her self-funded comedy specials Skinny B*tch and Laughing to America were sold to Netflix and are available now. She became a regular on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah as the show’s British correspondent in 2017.


Yashere was able to have an impact from early on. “I know you’re used to doing things a certain way, but technically in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of CBS, this is a Black show now.” The storyline of Abishola and her family, which is based on Yashere’s life, naturally meant at least half of the cast, and a number of writers would need to be African and Black.

“Abishola’s life story is based on my mother’s story,” Yashere said “My mother had us kids in England with my dad, then my dad couldn’t get good work in England. He was a qualified lawyer, my mom was a qualified teacher, but they couldn’t get work because England in the 60s and 70s was super racist.”

Like Abishola’s husband in the show, Yashere’s dad moved back to Nigeria when she was a child, leaving her mom in East London as a single mother. Yashere based the character she plays, Kemi, on her aunt and aspects of her mother.

“Kemi is was kind of an amalgamation of those two, the fun side, the outspoken, you know, not giving a crap side, and does what she wants to do,” she said about the comic relief character she created for herself.

Yashere also had a hand in choosing which actors to cast, and said she was mindful of her own experience auditioning for black and African roles in Hollywood and how demoralizing it can be. “I made sure I was in all the auditions to make sure that, when those black actors walked in that room and saw me, they could relax and enjoy the audition knowing that they’re not going to be asked to do any kind of coonery.”

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Gina Yashere, (left) as Kemi and Folake Olowofoyeku as Abishola on the set of “Bob Hearts Abishola”

She was also adamant that they cast a dark-complexioned, Nigerian actress to play Abishola, knowing that proximity to whiteness is usually the Hollywood standard, even with African roles.

“You’d watch movies with African characters, and the actors were completely wrong,” Yashere said. “Their style of dress was completely wrong, or you have an entire family and every one of them has got a different accent from a different country within Africa.”

They ended up casting the actress Folake Olowofoyeku to play Abishola, a Nigerian nurse with braids, who has created a life for herself and her son, while being estranged from her husband, with the help of friends, family, and community in Detroit. The show’s fluency with Nigerian and Black American culture makes it stand out among other sitcoms.

“You can tell research was done, and it speaks to what actually happens in a Yoruba family. It’s refreshing,” said Dolapo Adedapo, a Nigerian nonprofit consultant and radio show host, who was included in an NPR story about the show when it first aired.

Yashere was also a force behind making sure that half of the show’s eight-person writer’s room was Black. She invited Lorre, Gorodetsky, and Higgins to comedy shows around Hollywood to intro uce them to other Black comics. “She’s a writer too, you should hire them,” she would tell them whenever she noticed an act had gone over well.

All of this has brought positive attention to CBS, which has been criticized for its lack of diversity in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Last summer, the network announced that by 2022-23 season, half of its writers would be non-white. The announcement came after the Writers Guild of America West’s Committee of Black Writers released an open letter calling on the industry to “revolutionize the way our industry hires writers.”


Yashere’s success with Bob Hearts Abishola has left her convinced she can do more. “Being able to book black actors and book black writers has given me a new passion. So moving forward, I want to carry on executive producing and bringing through other talent,” she said.

GY pose at Paley
The creators and lead actors in “Bob Hearts Abishola” (from left) Chuck Lorre, Gina Yashere, Billy Gardell, Folake Olowofoyeku and Al Higgins attend The Paley Center For Media in 2019. (Photo by

As her career continues to unfold it never escapes her that there are more people like her- women, black, LGBTQIA, immigrant, etc- waiting for an opportunity to break into the business. Understanding that she can’t do it alone she also plants seeds to the people in power around her.

“You know, I said to Chuck, recently, you guys discovered me, but there’s a lot more me’s out there waiting for a good opportunity.”

She is also a new author. Her book Cack-handed, a memoir about her life before she moved to the U.S., hits bookshelves in June. Cack-handed, which means left-handed, and hence awkward and clumsy, in British slang, represents for Yashere how non-traditional her rise in Hollywood has been. She started off as an engineer, a path that she says delighted her immigrant mother, but decided to become a comedian after taking off a summer to act in a community play.

Now with “Bob Hearts Abishola” she’s showing that a left-handed professional can hold sway in a world built for right-handers.

“I’ve never wanted to push myself into a box that they put me in. I’ve never wanted to do things that are against my core principles,” she said. So because of that, it took me a lot longer to make it. But it feels a lot sweeter now because I’m making it on my own terms.”

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We are not a monolith: The spike in violence against Asian Americans shows the danger of the ‘model minority’ myth

Asian Americans san francisco love our people rally
The family of Vicha Ratanapakdee hold his photo at the “Love our People: Heal our Communities” rally in San Francisco on Feb. 14, 2021. Ratanapakdee, 84, was violently shoved to the ground in broad daylight on Jan. 28 while out on a morning walk and later died from his injuries.

  • In recent months, there has been a significant spike in violence against Asian Americans. 
  • Inadequate history education and the model minority myth result in less sympathy to the plight of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
  • The AAPI story needs to be diversified in order to capture the diversity and fullness of the experience of AAPI lives.
  • Sarah Kim is a freelance journalist and writer with cerebral palsy.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Throughout my K-12 public school education, the term “Asian American” appeared only once: during my 11th grade history class when covering the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair as my classmates began to shift their gaze over to me, the only student of East Asian descent, as our teacher lectured about the aftermath of such a catastrophic event – the US government’s edict that put 112,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. Although I was a New York-born Korean American, my classmates could not tell the difference, and I was not spared from stares riddled with judgment.

I wanted to be anything other than Asian

Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, I was made painfully aware of the fact that I was “non-white.” Although I was never bullied outright because of my race, the accumulation of microaggressive incidents drove home the message that I did not belong. From a young age, I realized that no matter how unique and different my lived experiences were, they would always be compared to the very limited Asian history to which my peers and acquaintances had access.

My “best friends” in middle school would be genuinely shocked when they saw the school’s only other female student of East Asian descent and mistake her for me – miraculously ‘healed’ from my disability. Due to my cerebral palsy, I’d usually use my wheelchair in school or, other times, walk with a noticeable limp and abnormal gait. So, the fact that they could not distinguish me from the other girl doubled the insult of the situation. 

Once, a teacher asked if I was related to Seung-Hui Choi, the Korean American perpetrator of the infamous Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. I am not. 

Soon after, I started to wear thick, dark eyeliner in an attempt to make my eyes look bigger and rid them of their slants. I tried to deceive people into thinking “Kim” was my middle name, and religiously suntanned my skin. I wanted so badly to erase my Asian heritage and appear more European. Although I was a first-generation Korean-American, such a distinction made no difference to my peers. No matter how much I tried to minimize my Asianness and assimilate into the Western culture, the “Asian” in “Asian American” would always weigh significantly more than “American.” It wasn’t “whiteness” I was striving for, but literally anything other than Asianness.

Those incidents cut deeper than the straightforward bullying I would receive because of my physical disability. I understood the concept of ableism before realizing that the microaggressions against my Asianness were, indeed, racism. 

It was ingrained in me from a very young age that I ought to respect my elders (even when they were wrong), keep my head down, and work hard to fit in. To my family, the model minority “myth” was anything but a myth; it was something they’ve striven to embody. This mentality has made my father continuously tolerant of strangers saying “ching chong ting tong,” treating him like an imbecile, and mocking his “broken” English throughout his 30 years living in this country.

It was not until freshman orientation in college, after receiving an invitation to the students of color reception, that I realized that I was considered a “person of color”. I had spent the years prior feeling alone in being one of the few, if not the only, non-caucasian student in class. So seeing that invitation and knowing that such an affinity group existed immediately gave me a sense of belonging, perhaps for the first time in my life. Once I spotted other Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) students at the event, I relaxed, assured that my presence was warranted.

Violence against Asian Americans continues

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Asian immigrants were subjected to villainization and horrendous racial violence. This instigated the creation of the “Asian American” identity during a time when racial justice was considered a black-and-white issue. Although Asian countries were often in conflict with each other, those who immigrated to America started to put their differences aside and stood together in solidarity. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the term “Asian American” was officially coined by student activists and helped shape decades of advocacy. Yet, none of this was included in my high school US history curriculum.

To most Americans, the recent uptick of violent hate crimes against Asian Americans comes as a surprise. Amid the rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States, there has been an increase in violence stemming from anti-Asian bigotry. Recently, such crimes have been targeted at the elderly in the AAPI community. It wasn’t until celebrities and influencers mobilized the #StopAsianHate social media campaign that mainstream news outlets started to cover these incidents more in-depth.

The ‘model minority’ myth

There is a deeply-rooted tradition in this country that sees everyone in the AAPI community as monolithic. All Asian Americans are seen as the ‘model minority’ – successful, hard-working, and largely wealthy. However, many communities in the Asian diaspora are subjected to extreme poverty levels in America, like the Nepalese, Micronesian, and Burmese. 

As a former New York Magazine writer arrogantly demonstrated in a 2017 piece, the old, haggard trope of Asian Americans goes like this:

“Today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?”

Although the passage is problematic on many levels, the most dangerous is its perpetual message of “hard work” and “overcoming hardships” which is central to the model minority myth. This stereotype harms the well-being and mental health of Asian Americans, who in addition to the hate crimes of the past year, faced prolonged unemployment. In the last three months of 2020, nearly half of Asian Americans who’ve lost jobs that year, stayed unemployed for 27 weeks or more – far longer than had white, Black, or Latinx Americans. And yet, Asian American job losses have gone unnoticed

The model minority mentality is instilled within the AAPI community so much so that many were reluctant to reach out for help even during these desperate times.

Not only does the myth diminish the real struggles that the AAPI community has continuously faced, it also systematically pits Asians against other minority racial groups, creating unnecessary tension and hatred. 

This myth has persisted for so long largely because of the proximity Asian Americans have to whiteness when it comes to the color of their skin and their socioeconomic status. When it is seemingly convenient – for example, in the question of affirmative action in higher education – Asian Americans get lumped together with white Americans. Perhaps this is the reason why 164 House Republicans opposed a bill that condemned anti-Asian sentiment this past September. 

However, no matter how much “whitening” there is of Asian Americans, we will never have the same rights and privileges as white Americans. Despite being born on American soil and living here all my life, I still get asked, to this day, “where are you really from?” 

To the gaze of America, we will forever be “foreigners.” 

It is not until the vastly different ethnicities and cultures in the Asian diaspora become recognized and accepted in this country that such racism will truly stop, and we will finally become “full Americans” in our own right. 

When we are approximated to white Americans, our Asian American identities – full of rich history and unique practices – are erased and our struggles are illegimatized. It also intensifies the colorism among Asian Americans, pitting fair-skinned Asians against those with darker complexions, and ultimately dismantling the cohesive and diverse Asian American collective. 

Asian Americans are a vastly diverse group of people, comprising dozens of nationalities, ethnicities, and religions, as well as different genders, (dis)abilities, education levels, and socioeconomic statuses. Not recognizing such diversity and erasing our identities is yet another form white supremacy, with too high a price tag. 

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White Americans are getting more than their fair share of COVID-19 shots – but there are ways to fix the inequity

coronavirus vaccine distribution
A group of people show off their coronavirus vaccine record cards on February 6, 2021.

  • Black and brown Americans are receiving fewer COVID-19 vaccine jabs, despite dying at higher rates.
  • US health systems must fund better outreach and education in communities of color, experts say.
  • In healthcare deserts, more mobile clinics could help residents get vaccines. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Since COVID-19 arrived in the US a year ago, the country’s Black and Latino citizens have been hit hardest: their outsized representation as essential workers, along with other systemic factors, have left their communities more than two to three times more vulnerable to severe disease and death from the virus, overall. 

Now, as relief begins trickling out to Americans in the form of vaccines, the same communities appear to be at a disadvantage, once again.

According to estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the nation’s first month of COVID-19 vaccinations, 5.4% of people who received a vaccine were Black. 

That’s lower than the 16% of health care workers who identify as Black, the CDC said. Healthcare workers were among those prioritized for the first shots. Meanwhile, more than 60% of people who got shots were white. 

Experts say we need to do three things to help increase the number of Black and Latino people getting COVID shots: increase outreach and education, improve access to vaccines, and partner with “trusted influencers” on social media, TV and radio stations to share better information. 

Polls have shown that Black Americans and other communities of color are more likely to be hesitant about getting vaccines, which experts say is due to skepticism and mistrust of the US health system fueled by historical injustices. At first glance, the racial demographics of vaccine recipients may not appear skewed, since white Americans constitute a greater proportion of those over 65, and roughly 60% of healthcare workers are white. 

But even with those considerations in mind, there’s evidence that limited resources for and outreach toward Black and Latino Americans is hindering the vaccine rollout. 

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of 23 states reporting COVID-19 vaccinations by race and ethnicity revealed that Black and Hispanic people consistently received a smaller share of shots compared to their share of coronavirus cases and deaths. Across the country, wealthy white people are flocking to neighborhoods of color to receive vaccines meant to go to the hardest-hit communities instead.

“We have a lot of work to do in this area to achieve health equity,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told reporters last week. 

Read more: Why America’s vaccine rollout was a total disaster – and what it means for the next few months

One problem is trust 

The CDC estimated last summer that Black Americans aged 35 to 44 were 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts.

The difference had nothing to do with the color of their skin, but rather their different circumstances: Black and brown Americans are more likely than white ones to be essential workers, and they are overrepresented caring for elders in nursing homes, where the bulk of the country’s deaths have been centered.

From the beginning of this crisis, they also have not gotten the support or supplies they need to stay safe, Dr. Camara Jones, past president of the American Public Health Association said. After months of neglect and broken promises, it’s no wonder they’re not jumping at the chance to get a new vaccine now, she said.

coronavirus vaccine racial demographics
A demonstrator wearing a protective mask holds a sign during the “Stop Racism in Vaccination!” rally in Herald Square on February 4, 2021.

“The message shouldn’t be ‘here’s the vaccine, you better take it,’ Jones told Insider. 

Communities that have been historically sidelined, maligned, or left behind aren’t going to automatically trust that public health experts are on their side, she said, especially during a pandemic in which they have been given garbage bags in place of proper protective gear to stay safe

“People get the feeling, “Oh, you’re just trying to [vaccinate us] so that we can get to herd immunity to protect your children when they go to their fancy school,'” she said. “Instead of going and trying to convince people to take the vaccine, we should say ‘there are real and legitimate questions.'”

Another issue is education

Benjamin said that another reason healthcare workers may be skeptical of the new vaccines is that they haven’t been told yet about how, exactly, they work.

“What people want to know is that it is safe,” he said, stressing that many people who work in healthcare, such as nursing aides, LPNs, and foodservice workers “have not had the type of health background” that would have introduced them to how vaccines are developed, tested, and authorized, and why they’re safe for consumers.

A successful vaccine distribution program might include information sessions, given several days before shots, he said, or include public health messages from “trusted influencers” on the radio, TV, and social media.

Dr. James Hildreth, one of the experts who served on the US Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee that evaluated both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, has been chatting online with leading Black clergy members recently, answering their most pressing questions about the vaccine development process.

Black people like himself, he said, have “been involved in every phase of development.”

Dr. James Hildreth
Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College President, has been helping Black clergy members get information on COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’re sitting on all sides of the table, and that alone makes this very different from the Tuskegee experiment,” said Hildreth, who’s president of Meharry Medical College. “We would not risk our reputation as an institution if there was the least bit of concern that the vaccines were not safe.”  

Vaccine access and transportation to shots is also problematic

Several experts said they’re worried that minorities may have trouble getting the vaccine, even if they want it.

“There really are extreme concerns around access, even for folks that are in the healthcare system,” said Dr. Utibe Essien, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Online systems to sign up for vaccine appointments and a lack of public transportation to sites may disadvantage vulnerable populations. 

Advocates for senior citizens previously told Insider that some elders, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, lack the resources to make appointments. Drive-thru sites, like at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, also require vaccine-takers to have access to a car and the flexibility to leave for vaccine appointments that may be scheduled during work hours. 

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A medical worker prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site in Plant City, Florida, on January 13, 2021.

Read more: How Walgreens, CVS, Kroger, and other retailers plan to leverage tech, convenience, and public trust to get the chaotic mass vaccine rollout back on track

“People who have to work a couple of shifts a day or work odd hours are going to be important,” Benjamin said. “I’ve often said if we can get fast food delivered 24 hours a day, we ought to be able to get vaccinations delivered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” 

In healthcare deserts, more mobile clinics could help fill in some of these gaps, said Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, director of the COVID-19 response initiative at Resolve to Save Lives.

“Transportation to go and get the vaccine becomes a major issue,” Mayfield said during a press briefing in February.

Health officials must do a better job of collecting data and reaching out communities of color

The CDC said its analysis of COVID-19 vaccinations was limited by missing data, as nearly half of shots given in the first month lacked race and ethnicity information.

Essien said the lack of data, which has been a problem since the beginning of the pandemic, makes it hard to know where to focus vaccination efforts.

“If we don’t feel confident in the data, we are not going to know how to distribute resources to those communities in need, which I think is really the key course-correcting step we have to take,” he said.

Don’t lie, or ‘butter it down,’ one doctor said

Dr. Robert Drummond, an internist who had COVID-19 last summer, is using Instagram to connect with communities of color.

Drummond told Insider that federal and state health departments should allocate more funding to educate minority communities on how and why to get vaccinated. The best way to get people of color vaccinated is to meet them where they are, such as in churches, barber shops, and on social media, he said

“They have to find innovative ways to get this vaccine out to individuals that are in need,” Drummond said.

He has had success convincing people to get vaccinated by reaching out from a place of concern for their overall health. For instance, If one of his Black followers is skeptical of the vaccine, he will discuss how vitamin D deficiencies, which are more prevalent in darker skinned people, have been linked to more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. 

robert drummond
Dr. Robert Drummond is helping connect with communities of color on social media.

The doctor posts videos of himself frankly discussing COVID-19 vaccines to his 21,000 Instagram followers to build trust.

“It hurts,” Drummond said on the platform, after he got Moderna’s two shots. “I’m not going to lie about it, I’m not going to butter it down.”

“But you know, again, for people who are asking, ‘Is it worth it or not?’ absolutely it’s worth it,” Drummond added. “I remember what COVID felt like … I still don’t know how much damage that damn virus did to my body. None of us do.”

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Fauci predicts that people will be able to go back to singing in church by mid-fall, when an ‘overwhelming proportion’ of the US has been vaccinated

Warnock Black church
Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

  • Church services that resemble pre-coronavirus worship should resume in mid-fall, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted Monday. 
  • That projection is dependent on at least 70% to 85% of the population getting vaccinated. 
  • Churches have been the sites of super-spreader events, since the virus spreads easily indoors when people are speaking loudly or singing in close quarters. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts church services – with hugging, praising, and music-making – will be able to resume safely in mid-fall, if the US vaccinates people “appropriately, effectively, and efficiently.”

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the projection Monday during the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Conclave, an online convening of more than 100 Black clergy, leading public health officials, and corporate and scientific leaders who are working to boost COVID-19 testing and other resources in the Black community. It was co-led by the Reverends Al Sharpton and Calvin Butts. 

When Fauci took the virtual stage, he answered questions from Black clergy around the country. The inquiry about church services came from the Reverend John Vaughn, who was representing Senator-elect Reverend Raphael Warnock from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. 

“When can we expect to go back to church, when we’ll be able to sing, we’ll be able to do wind instruments?” he asked.

Fauci said the timeline largely depends on how quickly we can get “the overwhelming proportion of our population,” or at least 70% to 85%, vaccinated.

fauci vaccine timeline
Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.

It’s particularly important that people who are most vulnerable, including Black Americans, get the vaccine. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans are dying at nearly 3 times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people and being hospitalized at nearly 4 times the rate.

Working to overcome a history of racial discrimination and mistreatment

But getting the vaccine first requires the Black community to trust that it’s safe and effective, Fauci and other speakers said. 

Black adults have shown more hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccines than White people or Hispanic people. About 35% of Black people said they probably or definitely wouldn’t get a COVID-19 shot, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, compared with about a quarter of people who identified as Hispanic or as white.

Hesitancy among Black Americans stems from a long history of racial discrimination and mistreatment by the US healthcare system, immunologist Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, president and chief executive officer of Meharry Medical College, said earlier in the event. 

As a Black scientist who’s been involved in the vaccine development process, he said the coronavirus vaccine is “nothing like Tuskegee.”

He was referring to the Tuskegee experiment, in which US scientists monitored about 400 Black men with syphilis and withheld treatment for the disease. The study lasted for about four decades, according to a CDC timeline, ending in 1972.

Hildreth said that “people of color must take the vaccine because otherwise, we’re putting our lives and our communities at risk.”  

Biden is promising to speed up the US vaccine rollout

Once the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, Fauci continued, “the level of virus in the community will be at such a low level that we will be able to really approach a degree of normality that’s similar, maybe not identical, but similar to where we were before all of this.” 

He said that if the US pursues its vaccination campaign “appropriately, effectively, and efficiently,” then “in the mid-fall, we’ll be able to get back to that type of worship which we all are longing for right now.” 

So far, though, the US vaccine rollout has gone much more slowly than top Trump administration officials promised. The rollouts has been hamstrung by a lack of federal assistance and limited funding, as Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported.

US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to speed up the vaccine effort, setting a goal of giving 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. He’s called for increased funding and said he’ll order the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help give the immunizations.

Read more: Why America’s vaccine rollout was a total disaster – and what it means for the next few months

Church services and group singing activities are super-spreader events 

In-person church services are the kind of event that presents a particularly high risk for spreading the coronavirus.

That’s because people are close to others indoors for an extended period of time. The coronavirus typically spreads via droplets that can travel 6 feet between people. Singing or even loud talking could allow the virus to travel farther, some research suggests. 

In fact, singing and church services have contributed to super-spreader events, in which an infected person is able to pass the disease to far more people than the average of two. 

In March, 60 members of a choir in Washington held a rehearsal. Three weeks later, 45 members were diagnosed with COVID-19, three were hospitalized, and two died.

In December, a holiday musical event at a church in North Carolina – where many people didn’t wear masks, including shoulder-to-shoulder choir singers – led to 75 people testing positive for the coronavirus.

“If you’re outdoors in a place that doesn’t have a lot of COVID? That’s almost no risk,” former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, said earlier in Monday’s program. “If you’re indoors for a long time with a lot of people who are shouting and singing and not wearing masks, that’s the highest risk.” 

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